Shéhérazade

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Shéhérazade Movie Poster Image
Dark drama is filled with violence, sex, drugs, profanity.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 109 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes power of love in the face of horrific situations, bleak futures, and lack of resources. Reveals ongoing effects of marginalizing immigrants.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Profoundly flawed characters -- victims of circumstance, poverty, abandonment -- ultimately opt for doing what's ethically essential, even at great risk. The only parent in the film is manipulative, self-serving, unreliable. Scathing portrait of marginalization of even third-generation North African immigrants. 

Violence

Multiple bloody and savage beatings. Pimping and prostitution are primary story elements, along with rape, sexual threats, and a woman assaulted. The aftermath of a brutal rape. Point-blank gunfire. 

Sex

Limited on-camera sex, but frequent implicit sexual encounters, some heard through closed doors. Prostitutes (mostly sympathetically portrayed) and pimps ply their trade. A transgender woman is a featured character. Sexual conversation, including graphic description of some sex acts, intermittently.

Language

Continuous profanity and slurs, including "f--k" (in many forms), "s--t," "d--k," "f--got," "whores," "a--hole," "bastard," "pissed off." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking, drunkenness, marijuana, hash, hard drugs are all consumed/ingested on camera. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shéhérazade is a contemporary French crime drama with English subtitles. Set in a section of Marseilles where several generations of North African immigrants live, it's a gritty, often disturbing, look at a poor community teeming with crime, poverty, and cultural deprivation. The "hero," a troubled teen with no realistic options when he's released from a juvenile detention center, turns to crime again. Central to the story is prostitution and the harrowing life of the women and girls who work to survive, along with their pimps. It also spotlights drug dealers, thugs, territorial clashes, and the isolation of the community's young people. Several violent sequences feature savage beatings and their bloody aftermath. Gunfire at close range occurs. Young women are raped (off-camera), abused, held hostage, and taunted. Sexual conversation, exploitation, and female bodies for sale are part of the fabric of the film. Profanity is constant, degrading, and vicious, including multiple forms of "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "ass," and insults such as "f--got" and "whore." Drugs and alcohol are pervasive: marijuana, drunkenness, and a sympathetic transgender prostitute uses crack cocaine on camera. A socially relevant drama, this movie is for very mature teens and adults only.

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What's the story?

In SHÉHÉRAZADE, 17-year-old Zach (Dylan Robert) is released from a juvenile detention center in Marseilles after serving a sentence for armed robbery and other crimes. Rejected by his coldhearted, manipulative mother, he runs from a group home, is apprehended, and runs again, this time into the arms of Shéhérazade (Kenza Fortas), a young, vulnerable but feisty prostitute. The two make a tentative connection; Zach crashes at her rundown flat and meets her transgender roommate. At the very least, he has a temporary landing place. Initially at odds with his old friends, the leader of whom is a drug dealer, Zach asks for their help when he discovers that Shéhérazade and her "associates" are being harassed by a gang of thugs. They're successful, and Zach makes the most of the opportunity by pimping for the prostitutes. Things are working out for him, and the relationship with Shéhérazade is becoming more intense. Trouble finds the couple when an old ally of Zach's makes a move on Shéhérazade. From that point forward, it's a violence-filled, suspenseful, and destructive path for Zach, who must fight the system and the mean streets, and come to terms with his own sense of right and wrong.

Is it any good?

A hyper-realistic camera, production design, and attitude combine with exciting performances by the two relatively novice lead actors to deliver a complex story of crime and character. With an overarching message about the power of love and a vital portrait of the plight of multigenerational immigrants in a gritty European port, Shéhérazade is an impressive first feature for director-writer Jean Bernard-Marlin. The film offers a violent, hard-hitting look at the urban decay and desperation that envelope the young people who don't see a way out. Still, once the audience gets past the brutality and the predatory behavior, Bernard-Marlin actually offers a spark of hope as the final credits roll. For older teens and adults only.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sex and sexuality in Shéhérazade. Is it gratuitous or an integral part of the movie's story and characterizations? Are there consequences for deviant behavior? Who pays that price? Given the subject matter and the plot, do you think the filmmakers handled the sex with integrity?

  • The characters in Shéhérazade are members of a group known as Maghrebin (Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian). The black-and-white scenes at the beginning of the film are actual footage of their immigration to France decades ago. Where would you go to find out more about this population? If you have an opportunity, you might want to watch the film's opening again now that there's a context for it.

  • Think about the cinematography (the photography -- camera work) in the movie. How did the lighting and unusual focus (sometimes sharp, sometimes soft) enhance the film's story? How did it help give you a sense of the life in that part of Marseilles?

  • Shéhérazade is the name of the storyteller and a character in One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern tales from centuries ago. Find out who the original character was and try to determine why the female lead in this movie was given her name.

Movie details

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